John Brown was one rebound shy of a fifth-straight double-double Thursday night, finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds in Liberty's 100-82 win over VMI.
The Liberty men's basketball team continued its stellar run in conference play, Thursday night, defeating the VMI Keydets, 100-82. Liberty's victory over the country's No. 1 scoring offense marks the first time the team has reached triple digits in scoring since Jan. 2, 2010, when the Flames bested the Keydets in Cameron Hall, 110-102. Led by David Minaya's career-high 22 points, Liberty moves to 14-7 overall and an 8-1 in the Big South through the first half of the conference season. Despite a 29-point effort by Austin Kenon, VMI falls to 11-8 on the season and 4-5 in conference play. The Keydet defeat also halts a four-game win streak in Big South road games. The Keydets began the contest with a furious pace, taking an early 5-0 lead thanks to a three-pointer and a layup by Kenon. Following a layup by John Brown, Kenon answered on the other end with another trey to put the Keydets up, 8-2, at 18:21. Liberty answered the challenge with a 7-0 burst of its own over the ensuing 1:23. David Minaya chipped away at the bulge with a layup, followed by an Evan Gordon three-pointer, which cut the deficit to one. Joel Vander Pol cemented the run and gave the Flames the lead, 9-8, with a layup at 16:58. The Flames' advantage lasted 59 ticks, as VMI's Keith Gabriel knocked down a lengthy three-point from the edge of the center court logo to reclaim the advantage, 11-9 with 15:58 left in the stanza. Liberty knotted the contest twice over the next 1:17. After Jesse Sanders tied the contest at 13 with a layup, the Keydets responded with six unanswered points, capped by another Kenon three-pointer to put the visitor ahead, 19-13 at 12:45. With VMI still holding a six-point edge 1:51 later, Sanders found Brown inside for layup to cut the deficit to four. Anderson followed up the high percentage shot with a three-point basket to pull the Flames within one, but Kenon once again came through for the Keydets, hitting his fourth trey of the game to extend the advantage, 24-20, at 10:20. Following Kenon's dagger, Liberty took advantage of a 4:26 Keydet scoring drought, reeling off seven points during the span. With 8:13 left in the half, Minaya ignited the Vines Center crowd with a momentum shifting three-pointer, giving the Flames the lead, 25-24. After Minaya followed up his own basket with a two-point jumper, Gabriel halted the burst with a layup, making it 27-26, Flames with 5:54 left in the half. Liberty began to create some distance in the closing minutes of the period, going on an 8-0 run over the next 2:09. Sanders benefited the most from the spurt, scoring six unanswered points. Antwan Burrus concluded the spurt with a layup to give the Flames an nine-point lead, 35-26, at 3:45. Kenon ended Liberty's hot streak 21 ticks later, sinking two free throws. After the two foul shots, Minaya gave the Flames a 10-point advantage with a traditional three-point play to make it 38-28 at 3:07. VMI looked cut the Liberty lead in half with a layup by Wayne Whiting and a Stan Okoye three-pointer, putting the visitor within five, 38-33, at 2:14. However the Keydets failed to score in the remaining minutes of the period, as Liberty closed out the half with a Brown layup and a Minaya jumper to give the Flames a 42-33 lead at halftime. Kenon led all scorers at half's end with 16 points, while Minaya paced the Flames with 12 points. Entering the contest averaging 11.1 three-pointers made per game, VMI kept up its usual pace in the first half, shooting 6-for-14 (42.9 percent) from three-point range. Liberty shot 54.8 percent (17-of-31) from the field in the first, while the Keydets shot 46.2 percent (12-of-26). During halftime, Liberty was honored by Special Olympics Virginia for becoming the first university in Virginia to host a Polar Plunge in the Commonwealth. The organization also thanked the athletics program for being the first NCAA program to endorse the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, bring in hundreds of pledges including the majority of Liberty's student-athletes. In the second half, Kenon picked up where he left off, sinking his fifth three-pointer of the contest in the opening 11 seconds. John Brown responded at the other end 30 seconds layer, capitalizing on a tip-in to make it a six-point game, 44-36. The Keydets stayed with two possessions of the Flames over the next two and half mintues, but Minaya widened the gap to eight, 48-40, with a jumper at 16:52. VMI sliced the deficit in half with four straight points by Ron Burks, but Brown prevented the Keydets from inching closer, hitting a layup to give the home team a six-point advantage, 50-44, at 15:13. Brown's bucket sparked a 13-2 run for the Flames over the next 3:37. Jeremy Anderson capped off the burst with back-to-back three-pointers, allowing Liberty to hold a 17-point lead. Okoye cooled off the Flames with a layup to make it 63-48 at 11:17. The Flames expanded their advantage to 18 points at the 9:40 mark, when Burrus threw down a two-handed jam. VMI made it a 14-point margin a minute later, but the Flames responded with a six-point burst off a free throw by Sanders, a Gordon three-pointer and a fast break layup from Brown to go up by 20, 78-58, at 7:36. VMI could not muster another strong run down the closing stretch. After the Keydets cut it to 18 with two free throws, Chene Phillips gave Liberty a 21-point lead with a three-pointer to make it 83-62 with 6:34 left on the clock. Liberty maintained an 18-21 point margin over the next 4:40. Sanders put the Flames up by 23 with two free throws with 1:54 left and then gave Liberty its largest lead of the contest 14 seconds later. Sanders second pair of charity stripe tallies gave the Flames a 25-point advantage, 100-75, with 1:40 left. In the remaining seconds, VMI scored to seven unanswered points, leading to the 100-82 decision in favor of the Flames. Apart from Kenon's 29-point performance, three other Keydets finished in double scoring figures – Okoye (17), Burks (13) and Gabriel (10). Along with Minaya's 22 points, Sanders chipped in 21 tallies and a career-high 13 assists. Brown finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Gordon and Burrus added 14 and 13, respectively. Liberty finished with its highest field goal percentage of the season at 56.3 percent, hitting 36-of-64 shots from the field. VMI shot 48.2 percent (27-of-56) from the field and went 10-of-25 (40.0 percent) from three-point land. VMI heads back to Cameron Hall next Thursday, playing host to Gardner-Webb. Game time is set for 7 p.m. Liberty will also take a week break from on-court action before returning to the Vines Center next Thursday, to host UNC Asheville. The Flames took the first contest against the Bulldogs this season, picking up the 59-55 win inside the Justice Center. Tipoff for the rematch is slated for 7 p.m.